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Richmond-area summer camps face increased demand

Ralston plays his guitar with his students
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Spacebomb's co-owner Cameron Ralston performs with his campers.

With the end of the public health emergency, enrichment for kids outside of school returned.

Summer programs have been a staple of kids’ time away from school for years, though many took a hit during the COVID-19 emergency. But demand for summer camps in the Richmond area was back up this year.

There’s been a surge of families enrolling their children in summer programs following the formal end of the worldwide public health emergency, according to the American Camp Association. With demand, the price of camps has also increased 35% from 2021 to 2022.

Inside Spacebomb Studio, five kids are jamming out and losing themselves in the music. There is movement everywhere, from a tapping foot to a bobbing head.

The lights are dim, lending to the relaxed vibe: Cameron Ralston is Spacebomb’s co-founder and producer. This is the first round of the studio’s brand new weeklong summer camp.

“The camp is designed to give kids a very holistic, immersive experience,” he said. At Spacebomb, kids 6 to 17 years old can play, write and mix music together in a fully equipped recording studio.

Ralston said he wants students to feel comfortable, sharing a time when one of them decided to scream into the microphone: “That’s kind of the point really, is to create an environment to feel creatively unhindered.”

Kate Berry, a rising senior who uses she/they pronouns, said that she and the four others enrolled in the program have learned a lot over the past week. To them, it’s educational, but less restrictive than school.

“Something different about you in a studio can be really lifted up and brought to the surface,” they said.

Lydia Horrell, a Berkeley Middle School student, said it helps that Spacebomb caters to her passion by leaving "more space for fluidity and messing around.

For her, this work is "kind of unmeasurable by just As and Bs and numbers."

Nakisha Whittington, an assistant professor of elementary education at VCU, praised the summer camps. “It provides representation of what you can be, what is out there for you beyond school,” she said. "It allows for a lot of informal learning.”

According to Whittington, summer programs help build skills that kids will use when they return to school. She said they also help kids form their identities and can shape how they interact with the world.

“I think that's a wonderful positive impact that summer camps provide; they're around diverse groups of people, they're learning things that they're interested in,” she said.

That’s definitely true for kids who attended the Richmond Traditional Martial Arts summer camp.

Hanna Ordelheide, one of the primary RTMA instructors, leads field trips for the summer camp. Each summer, it accommodates about one hundred kids. Ordelheide said that when the COVID-19 pandemic started, the majority of RTMA’s clients canceled or withdrew almost immediately. But enrollment has now surpassed what it was before.

“In the beginning, it's a little bit rough, because you have a lot of these little kids who haven't experienced this structure before. And all of them snap into the structure within a couple of weeks,” Ordelheide said. “And once they have that structure to grow in, they do leaps and bounds.”

Spacebomb’s Cameron Ralston agrees.

“It's such good confidence-building," he said, "especially when you're in an environment where you really feel you can be yourself 100%.”

Summer camp resources

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